“We all begin as tourists. Somewhere along the way, some of us turn into travellers. And then, some of us choose to stay on.”
I’m writing this post two months after our month long stay in Seoul. I must confess, quite often, I’ve faced traveller’s amnesia when it comes to writing posts on our past travels. Names blur out, people fade away, and the only thing that I remember, with clarity, are conversations and experiences. That’s why, writing this post is easy and overwhelming – at the same time.
We always wanted to travel, much before Basil and I had even met. And yet, it took years for us to start travelling – the way – we would have liked to. Most of our trips have been chaotic adventures, filled with long walks and pairs of dirty laundry. We skimmed past the tourist phase pretty early in our travel journey. I’ve secretly thought of us to be travellers and dreamed to be explorers, someday. Doubted if it was our true calling. It was Basil who suggested we experience life as is – without the hotel stay and backpack. After brief stints in Tokyo (Nov 2012) and Shanghai (April 2015), Seoul (August 2015) happened as a matter of chance.
As a traveller, I’ve always felt a certain sense of freedom. I’ve felt free of being tied down by a culture or language/s. People don’t expect much from you. Interactions are often polite and brief, maybe even superficial. And if you’re reclusive (like us), most of them might happen while your trying to find your way around. There’s no denying a certain curiosity of where you’re from, but there’s also a sense of indifference. Travellers fall into a slot of their own and locals often feel the pressure to be nice. Have you ever noticed the 100 W smiles at tourist places? Maybe, even keep their prejudices to themselves. Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.
I think, all of that changes once you choose to live the ‘life’ in a country you would have normally toured. Interactions are now essential and it’s absolutely necessary to learn the basic form of communication and cultural nuances. Although, the world is becoming a smaller place, on close inspection, culturally differences in each country are far pronounced. Language takes precedence once again. And probably, that’s the only way you would win smiles.
Being different comes with its own set of challenges. Challenges didn’t appear in the form of hikes we’d try or walks we’d set on, they seemed basic, almost rudimentary. For example, setting a disruptive internet connection turned into a comical sign language fest – laced with nervous smiles.
The question, “Where are you from?” seems to be the standard opening line of any conversation. And I guess, there’s nothing wrong with that, we get that often, even while we travel. Perhaps, I dreaded being shoved into a cultural stereotype. I didn’t want to answer questions I’m tired of answering. Instead, I’d wish people would ask me ‘who I was’ (something I’ve yet to find an answer for) rather than ask me what I was born as or into.
I’ve always wanted to be different. Maybe, I equate being different with being unique. And yet, I disliked being ‘different’ in a foreign land. In a way, there’s a sense of isolation, a sense of loss. I wasn’t homesick. I just didn’t know where ‘home’ was any more. I ended feeling more confused. Sometimes, angry for not feeling enough. And sometimes, for becoming more confused of ‘who I was’, or maybe, of ‘who I was trying to be’.